Chef of Jockey Hollow Steps Down

Craig Polignano, leaving the Morristown restaurant to take “a little time for myself,” will be replaced by A.J. Capella, recently executive chef of A Toute Heure in Cranford.

Jockey Hollow
Photo courtesy of Jockey Hollow

Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen in Morristown, a perennial on New Jersey Monthly’s Best Restaurants list since it opened in 2014, has a new executive chef. Owner Chris Cannon said today that Craig Polignano, 38, who has led the kitchen since October of 2017, has resigned. He will be succeeded by A.J. Capella, 29, who in June earned three stars from NJM as executive chef of A Toute Heure, a New American restaurant in Cranford.

Capella has already left A Toute Heure and is working with Polignano and Cannon to get a grip on one of the most challenging chef jobs in the state. JHBK, as it’s known, transformed the long-vacant 1920 Vail Mansion on South Street into a multi-faceted enterprise. The ground floor is divided between the Oyster Bar and the wood-paneled Vail Bar, both casual, with menus combining Italian and New American dishes. One flight down is the Rathskeller, a live music space with fun menus that range from German to Latin to what-have-you. One flight up is the seafood-focused fine dining restaurant, DaPesca.

Polignano was chef de cuisine of the branch of Princeton’s Mistral in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania when Cannon hired him. Polignano, a New Jersey native, says taking over JHBK “was a great opportunity for me. It got me back to New Jersey. The founding chef [Kevin Sippel] had been gone for about six months, and they needed a strong leader to come in and bring everything back to the highest level. I feel I’ve accomplished that. Now I need a little time for myself to figure out what’s next.

“I want to find something a little more suited for my style, possibly a little smaller,” he added. “Jockey Hollow is a big restaurant, a beast. It was a big challenge to take it over, and now I feel I need to unwind for awhile before I burn out. It’s something that happens to a lot of chefs when they work too hard. But I’m leaving Jockey Hollow in good hands.”

Capella, his successor, says, “I’m super excited. When Chris asked me if I would be interested in taking the position, I was a little taken aback. I wasn’t expecting a restaurant of this caliber at my age. I had a lot of conversations with Craig every day for about two weeks that convinced me I’m ready for this. And I spoke with some other people I’ve worked with over the years that solidified that for me. I’m fairly confident in myself, but it was nice to hear [votes of confidence] from people I’ve worked for and looked up to for so long.

“I wish A Toute Heure nothing but the best,” Capella added. “But Jockey Hollow is one of the premier restaurants in New Jersey, and Chris Cannon has an enormous wealth of knowledge as a restaurateur. So it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

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